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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Britain “a nation of thwarted language-learners
Britain is a nation of language lovers who lack the time to learn and have been put off by past learning experiences, according to a survey. All the respondents had tried to learn a foreign language, but 58 per cent were unsuccessful and 40 per cent complained of poor-quality language teaching in schools. This may help to explain why CILT, the national languages centre, recently ranked the UK bottom of a league table of 28 countries for language ability.
After compulsory language education in school, evening classes ranked as the most widely used method of learning. However, of the 40 per cent of respondents who had enrolled, 52 per cent failed to complete their courses, blaming time constraints. Others complained of overcrowded classrooms and too much homework. While significant numbers of those surveyed had used phrase books (25 per cent) and/or language CDs/tapes (23 per cent) as learning methods, only 2 per cent had tried online learning. The main motivations for wanting to learn a foreign language were for personal development (58 per cent), in preparation for overseas travel (30 per cent) and for career enhancement, which was cited by 24 per cent of respondents. In addition, 12 per cent were keen to be able to converse with relatives in their native tongue.
Spanish is the most desirable language to learn, according to 45 per cent of respondents. It has overtaken French (31 per cent), despite French being the most commonly taught language in schools. Some 4 per cent of those surveyed expressed an interest in joining an estimated 873 million others to speak the most widely used language in the world, Mandarin. The survey was commissioned by Rosetta Stone, a provider of online and CD-Rom based language courses. In another survey, carried out by Eurobarometer, half of Europeans said they could speak at least one foreign language – approximately the same result as in 2001, when 47 per cent of the European Union population said they could speak at least one foreign language.
In July 2003, the Commission published an action plan on Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity, which sets out broad fields of action that it sees as crucial for the future: extending the benefits of language learning to all citizens; improving the quality of language teaching; fostering an inclusive approach to languages; improving language awareness through the media; and improving the supply and take-up of language-learning opportunities. In support of these objectives, the action plan sets outs the Commission’s vision for languages in the EU, defines what the EU’s role can be in this task and asks EU member states to increase their action in the priority areas identified. The Commission has committed itself to undertaking 45 actions at European level between 2004 and 2006, in the hope of encouraging others to progress at national, regional or local level. Each year, the EU spends more than €30 million on language learning.
Ján Figel, European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism, commented: “As a Slovak proverb says, ‘The number of languages you speak is the number of times you are human.’ Since the poll shows that the younger the respondent is, the likelihood of speaking a foreign language increases, I am convinced that today’s young generation will fully contribute to enriching Europe’s multilingual society.”